In multiple ways, it could be argued that Friday night’s battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies saw one of Russell Westbrook’s best performances since donning the purple and gold. This led to significant praise from head coach Darvin Ham.
For one, Westbrook posted a season-high 29 points and did so in just 30 minutes. His previous season-high — 28 — took 40 minutes of playing time to accomplish. He was also highly efficient, shooting 10-of-18 from the field and 2-for-4 from 3. He added five rebounds and six assists on top of that.
But the cherry on top was his defensive effort against Grizzlies star Ja Morant. Westbrook has often been criticized for his defense, but on Friday, he strung together several key stops on Morant, who finished the night with 22 points and eight assists on 9-for-29 shooting.
Ham focused on not only Westbrook’s defense, but his leadership in taking on such a marquee matchup. “Those five guys on the court at the end, from Dennis, K. Nunn stepped up and had some great crackdowns on some 50-50 balls and LeBron, Russ.
“Russ’ defense on Ja Morant at the end, it was great. And he stepped up in the huddle, Russ did, and said that ‘I got him. Let me take him.’ And that’s the type of assertiveness that we need to get where we want to go.”
Westbrook let the critiques of his defense fuel him, sending a message to detractors after the game. “I just know I’m a very good defender. I believe in my ability to be able to stop anybody no matter what position, and that’s it.”
There is no denying that Westbrook’s defensive effort — especially against Morant — is part of what kept the Lakers afloat and ultimately allowed them to defeat the Grizzlies. Westbrook is far from a perfect defender, but he showed what he can be capable of at his best on Friday.
The point guard matchups don’t get easier for L.A., however. Their next game is against the Portland Trail Blazers, where Westbrook may have to face either Damian Lillard or Anfernee Simons, both of whom can make trouble for any defender in the NBA.
Westbrook should undoubtedly be praised for what he did against the Grizzlies. Now, the focus can turn to consistency and if he can continue that type of defensive effort and leadership against the Blazers.
Dennis Schroder seals win with late defensive stop
The biggest defensive play of the night came in the final seconds when Dennis Schroder trapped Desmond Bane and stripped the ball, then turned and scored an and-one layup to give the Lakers the lead and the win. He credited Ham for the game plan, and luck for allowing him to come up with the steal.
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